Kashmir budget proposes free schooling for girls

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir government on Monday announced special budgetary initiatives for women that include school fee waiver up to Class 12, and a reserved quota of industrial land for female entrepreneurs in the industrially backward state.

Presenting his second budget in the state assembly here, Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu said the women-specific initiatives were envisaged “in deference” to Mehbooba Mufti — the first woman chief minister of the state.

“I propose that the government waive off the fee of all girl students in the state government-run educational institutions up to the higher secondary level,” Drabu said.

The finance minister in his budget speech also proposed that “10 percent of industrial estates shall be reserved for women entrepreneurs” in the state.

He said if an allotted piece of land reserved for women entrepreneurs in an industrial estate was transferred, “it shall be (given) to an enterprise which is incorporated in the name of a woman and has women as the majority shareholders as directors”.

To encourage women’s start-ups in the state, the minister also proposed two entrepreneur development centres — one each in Srinagar and Jammu — to “help, guide, and train aspiring women entrepreneurs” in the state.

The finance minister also committed Rs.5 crore for “women only” city bus services which began in Srinagar recently.

The minister also announced that the government would set up four new women’s police stations in Pulwama, Kupwara, Kathua and Udhampur.

He said he proposed constructing exclusive toilets for women in all state-run hospitals and health centres of Jammu and Kashmir. Currently, only major state-run hospitals have separate toilets for women.

Among fiscal initiatives, the minister proposed to raise Value Added Tax (VAT) from the present 13.5 to 14.5 per cent in fiscal 2016-2017.

Similarly, the state levied tax on aviation fuel has been increased from the existing 20 to 25 per cent.

The minister said a welfare fund for journalists would be set up with a corpus of Rs 2 crore to benefit families of journalists in case of death or incapacitation.

All 207 unelectrified villages across Jammu and Kashmir will be electrified by the end of 2018, the minister said.

The budget proposes concessions to handicraft, hotel and other industries.

“We have already decided to write off debts to artisans and craftsmen who could not repay loans because of reasons beyond their control,” Drabu said.

The minister said Rs 4,000 crore have been earmarked for setting up new industrial estates in the state.

He also said the electric power purchase liability of the state would be Rs 7,000 crore by the end of 2016.

Since Jammu and Kashmir was under Governor’s Rule from January 7 to April 4 following the death of the then chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, it did not have a normal budget. Governor N.N. Vohra had passed a vote on account in the state administrative council during that period to avert a financial crisis in the state.

Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) formed the new government with the support of its estranged ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on April 4.